The town got its name from the railroad that ran through it and siphoned grain from the white elevators that rise above Colorado's eastern plains. A steady supply of water lay underground, and so, in 1887, as the builders of the Pueblo and State Line Railroad planned their route, they made a notation on their maps to identify the spot between the closest towns on either side--Eads, 21 miles to the east, and Sugar City, 34 miles west: "Has well."
The 1990 census found 62 people--38 families--in Haswell, a cluster of buildings surrounded by central Kiowa County's wheat and corn fields. People stop and gossip at the one convenience store/gas station, Haswell Propane, a curved metal hanger along Route 96. The old fire-department building a quarter-mile up the road is boarded up, as is the Haswell Elementary School, a building constructed in the 1960s school mold: low, clean brick lines, flat-roofed. Today students living on Haswell's western-most border are bused 45 miles one way to school in Eads.
The school's closing a decade ago seemed to mark a turning point in the town's fortunes. Since then, Haswell's lumberyard, bank, grocery store and cafe have all shut down, too. Last year Union Pacific, citing high costs and little return, mothballed the rail line that runs through the heart of the town.
The only other business remaining in Haswell, L&M Processing, sits kitty-corner across Route 96 from the gas station. It's a low, white concrete building that Leonard Price has owned and worked in for 52 years, where cows and pigs are hauled in for slaughter and custom butchering.
It's also where, in the summer of 1996, among the band saws and wide tables, police say a young Haswell woman named Cynthia Phillips planned for her husband to be murdered.
Nothing remains private for long in a town whose population is counted in the dozens. But Phillips had become an object of scrutiny even sooner than usual. Her look-at-me outfits ("boots like that daughter of Frank Sinatra's used to wear," recalls one neighbor) and bleached blond hair assured that Phillips would be a curiosity soon after she arrived in the tiny farming community in 1994 with her husband, Ron, and their four children, two each from previous marriages.
Ron, a large, hardworking man, was a familiar quantity in Kiowa County, about 150 miles southeast of Denver. He'd attended high school 25 years earlier in Eads, where his parents and sister still live. But his young wife was a puzzlement to locals, a rich source of gossip. She seemed drawn to bustle and nightlife--commodities in short supply in Haswell--and it surprised no one when she began spending more and more time in Lamar, a city of 8,000 sixty miles to the southeast.
There Cynthia could usually be found at Opal's Pub, a battered honky-tonk on the northern edge of town. She soon became friends with one Opal's bouncer and lover to another. According to police, it was in early June 1996 that she handed one of the bouncers $10,000 cash in exchange for his agreeing to kill Ron one lonesome night at L&M Processing.
Cynthia claimed that she had her reasons. Ron deserved to die, she insisted, because he beat her. And at first, it did seem to Kiowa County sheriff's deputies that the Phillipses might have been imprisoned in one of those marriages that deteriorate into sad dances of mutual abuse: She cheated on him; he hit her.
But early this past summer, as the police drove across plains in the middle of the country visiting people from Phillips's past, they would learn much more about the reed-thin Haswell woman. Eventually, they would detect an unsettling pattern. It followed Phillips as she moved between small farming towns in Colorado, Kansas and Texas, and it involved the men in those towns who had become intimate with her.
In the past year, as law-enforcement officers from three states traced her trail, they discovered that these men had two things in common. All happened to hold large life-insurance policies listing Cynthia Phillips as beneficiary.
And all had run into a streak of deadly bad luck.
September 1996--Kinsley, Kansas
The search party was made up of agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Edwards County sheriff's department. Although the calender date was inauspicious--Friday the 13th--the group hoped for a break. Leslie Konrade, 38, had been missing ever since he hurriedly left the local VFW bar on the evening of August 22.
In the three weeks since Konrade's disappearance, anonymous tips to the KBI had hinted that police should concentrate their search efforts "near water" around Kinsley, a town of 2,000 between Great Bend and Dodge City. But heavy rains had caused the rivers to overflow, and the manhunt amid the sprawling fields of western Kansas had been slowed. That September morning, however, Les Konrade finally showed up--floating face-down along the muddy banks of Coon Creek, several miles northeast of Kinsley.
Due to the water and the high heat of summer, the body was already badly decomposed. Konrade had never been to a dentist, so some of the more common and practical techniques used by forensic pathologists to identify corpses were unavailable, and the doctors were forced to slowly piece together small bits of information. They needed three months to positively identify the body as Konrade's.
Even then, the case remained, officially, a mystery. "The autopsy couldn't determine the cause of death," recalls Ford County sheriff Arlyn Leaming. "We know he sustained some head trauma. But it could've been from a fall. Or it could have been a blow."
So the unsolved case of the death of Cynthia Phillips's first husband was filed away. Someday, the police hoped, they'd get a break; until then, Kinsley's first murder in a decade would stay unsolved.
Situated on the old Santa Fe trail near the confluence of Coon Creek and the Arkansas River, Kinsley reached its pinnacle of fame sixty years ago when the cover of The Saturday Evening Post featured a sign in the town park. Still there, it shows arrows pointing east to New York City and west to San Francisco, indicating the distance to each at exactly 1,531 miles, a geographical anomaly that gave Kinsley its nickname: Midway, U.S.A.
Cynthia Nau was born there on February 9, 1965, the oldest of three sisters. Her father, Jim Nau, was an auctioneer who bought and sold antiques on the side; her mother, Darlene, worked odd jobs at local restaurants. The couple divorced when Cynthia was young. In 1974, according to friends and relatives, Cynthia's mother and the girls moved 350 miles west to Colorado Springs. Several years later they returned to Kinsley, where Cynthia attended high school.
Despite the homey, small-town surroundings, Cynthia's childhood was far from idyllic. Her mother had remarried another man, Dan Sigwing, who brought to the union four boys from a previous marriage. Sigwing's ex-wife had remarried, too, but her new husband was well-off. Acquaintances of the families say that resulted in a clear disparity between Cynthia and her sisters, who always seemed to be wanting more money and possessions, and their stepbrothers, who always seemed to have both. "Darlene's girls were real bitter toward them," says one person close to the family. "You could just feel it."
Cynthia grew up fast, falling into adulthood just out of high school. When she married Leslie Konrade in a small, family-only ceremony at a relative's house on February 27, 1983, she was less than three weeks past her eighteenth birthday and already eight months pregnant. Among her neighbors and relatives, there is still some question as to who the baby's father was. A month later, Cynthia's first child, Magon, was born and adopted by her new husband.
The Konrade clan had been one of the first to settle in the new town of Kinsley after it was founded in 1873 by emigrants from Massachusetts. One hundred years later, much of the family still resides in and around Edwards County, where they continue to raise families and work, mostly in farming.
The sixth of eight children, Les Konrade was a soft-spoken man with curly blondish hair and blue eyes. Although he'd never astonished anyone with his intelligence, he was diligent and responsible; since his teens, he had worked only one job, at Midway Manufacturing, a local company that makes hydraulic systems for farm implements. He spent most of his spare time with fellow members of the Knights of Columbus and hanging out at the VFW, one of Kinsley's two bars. It was there that he met Cynthia, who waitressed at the hall.
Cynthia was his first real girlfriend, and he fell for her hard. The fact that she was already pregnant didn't seem to bother him. "I think my brother was just looking for somebody to love," says Beverly Jensen, one of his sisters. "We just wondered why he was getting involved with her."
By the time the two were a couple, Jensen explains, Cynthia already had something of a reputation among many Kinsley residents. Marriage and a new family didn't seem to change her. "The first sign of trouble began soon after they were married," Jensen says. "She started running around on him. It wasn't hard to figure out. This is a small town; people see you. We would try to tell him, but he just wouldn't believe it. He said, 'Even if it is true, I don't care.'
"It's like he was hypnotized. Les would accept anything. He loved her. He forgave her."
Even after the birth of her first child, Jensen says, Cynthia was soon back out in the bars. "She didn't care who she went home with," she says. "Les stayed home with the baby. He knew she'd come home eventually."
Despite the birth of a second daughter two years later, the young couple's marriage deteriorated rapidly. By 1985, Cynthia had met a Colorado man working in a meatpacking plant in nearby Dodge City. His name was Ron Phillips. Within a year, she divorced Konrade and married Phillips. The wedding took place on October 10, 1986.
"After they were divorced, Les took it pretty hard," recalls Jensen. "We were all pretty glad about it. But we told him, 'You aren't the first person to be divorced.'"
Cynthia kept in contact with Konrade, although the meetings were anything but amicable. "Even after the divorce, she wouldn't leave him alone," Jensen remembers. She says Cynthia often would come to the VFW hall on weekends where Les was drinking and yell and scream at him. "Mostly," Jensen says, "it was over money."
January 1993--Kiowa and Prowers counties, southeastern Colorado
Although Ron and Cynthia Phillips and their four children continued to live in Kinsley, Ron, a native of Kiowa County, had expressed an interest in returning to the Eads area. In late 1992 he heard that Leonard Price, the owner of a small slaughterhouse and packing business a couple dozen miles east of Eads, was interested in retiring. The Phillipses agreed to purchase both L&M Processing and Price's home along Route 96; Price carried the financing. In early January 1993 the Phillips family packed up and moved to Haswell.
Residents say the couple was friendly and seemed happy. Yet even by the small-town standards that Cynthia had grown up with and become accustomed to, Haswell was extraordinarily tiny, and acquaintances say that she soon began returning to Kinsley on the weekends after spending the week working in the packing plant.
That pattern changed one day in March 1995, when Cynthia's car broke down in Lamar and she took it into a local garage owned and operated by the Mathews family. One of the family members on duty that day was Toby. The two began talking. Toby told Cynthia he also worked as a bouncer at a nearby bar called Opal's Pub; the next night, she showed up there.
While Toby had moved around quite a bit in his 26 years--he'd grown up in Grand Junction and Lamar and graduated from high school in Eastland, Texas--he finally seemed ready to settle down for a while in Lamar. He had begun working for his father, Orie, in the family garage, mainly as a tow-truck driver, sometimes as an auto mechanic. Most of his time off--and there was a lot of it--was spent hunting and fishing. "Toby didn't take to responsibility real well--just a grown-up man who was still a kid," says his stepmother.
Cynthia seemed to like him, though, and she soon became a regular at Opal's, making the one-hour drive down from Haswell several times a week. Often she'd arrive late in the afternoon and stay all the way through closing, at 2 a.m.
She left the impression of someone intent on leaving an impression. "She seemed like she was always acting--always on stage," recalls one longtime regular. "If she wasn't getting a lot of attention, she'd act drunk. If you met her, the first thing you'd think is, 'Poor little thing. She needs protection.'"
Toby's personality fit hers like a puzzle piece. A tall, dark-bearded and gregarious man who wasn't shy about taking the karaoke microphone or hitting the dance floor, he was well-known and well-liked in Lamar. He also had a soft spot for vulnerable women, friends say, and it wasn't long before Cynthia and Toby became lovers.
While Toby's feelings for his new girlfriend seemed genuine, her intentions were less clear--and considerably edgier. Once, after she'd already begun her affair with Toby, Cynthia brought Ron into Opal's to celebrate their wedding anniversary--while Toby was bartending. "She lived a dangerous life, and she seemed to enjoy it," says the longtime patron, who was there that evening.
Like the Konrades, who took a dim view of their son's relationship with Cynthia, the Mathews family also saw Phillips in a darker light than Toby did. The gulf in perception soon created a deep rift. "Him and I had a kind of falling-out, and it was because of her," says Orie, Toby's father. "Like I told him, 'I can't make up your mind for you. But someday you're going to wake up and smell the roses.'"
As Toby and Cindy grew closer--and as Orie's suspicions that his son was being used by his new girlfriend grew--the breakdown in the Mathews family intensified. Orie Mathews recalls being perplexed and angered by Cynthia's vague and seemingly shifting allegiances.
"She was living part-time with Ron up in Haswell and part-time with Toby," he recalls. "One day I was talking with a banker friend of mine who said that she was getting ready to buy a new home in Haswell. I said, 'What the hell! She's supposed to be fixing to move in with Toby.'
"I brought it up with him," Orie continues. "I said, 'I think she's taking you for the biggest ride of your life.' And it wasn't just me. All of his friends was telling him the same thing. But I don't think he wanted to hear it."
Indeed, according to people who knew the couple, Toby doted on Cynthia, jumping at each opportunity to make her happy. One friend recalls that at one point she told him she wanted a gun. He purchased a nine-millimeter handgun, which they took target shooting, the friend says.
"Toby didn't really work toward anything or at anything," concludes his stepmother. "Except Cindy. It wasn't like he loved her; it was like he worshiped her."
Yet Cynthia continued to live a double life, at least as evidenced by the financial trail she left. In May 1995, for instance, a couple of months after she began hanging out at Opal's Pub and became involved with Toby Mathews, she and Ron Phillips purchased a new life-insurance policy on Ron from State Farm Insurance Company. The policy, with a face value of $200,000, had a double-indemnity clause in the case of an accidental death. Cynthia was named as the primary beneficiary.
Later, her personal motivations in the love triangle became even murkier. By the summer of 1996 she was spending a considerable amount of time in Lamar and away from Haswell, staying nights at Mathews's house on West Park Street. "She also started handling Toby's money," recalls Orie. But she still maintained close ties with Ron Phillips. On September 1, 1996, the two purchased another insurance policy on Ron's life. Written through Prudential, the policy had a face value of $300,000. Again, Cynthia was the primary beneficiary.
The following month, Cynthia finally seemed to make up her mind. Despite what would appear to be a firm financial commitment to her marriage, in October 1996 she and Toby took her daughters and left Lamar, Haswell and Ron Phillips behind. They headed south, to a small oil town in central Texas called Corsicana, where Toby's grandmother lived.
By all appearances, they settled quickly into domesticity, moving into a modular home together. Toby found a job at the local K-Mart distribution center. To further secure their young relationship, Toby purchased a $100,000 life-insurance policy, listing Cynthia as the primary beneficiary.
Spring 1998--Corsicana, Texas
On April 14, just before midnight, Corsicana police responded to reports of a rapid burst of gunfire near a mobile-home park on the north side of town. When they arrived, they discovered the body of a 29-year-old man, lying partially in the street behind his still-running car. Toby Mathews was bleeding to death.
In a city of less than 20,000 residents, murders are not a common occurrence; Corsicana sees only about two or three a year. As a new resident, Mathews hadn't had time to develop a broad group of acquaintances, so police there quickly narrowed the list of suspects to his tight circle of companions. Within two weeks, they had a confession.
An old family friend of the Naus in Kinsley, Richard Boyd had moved to Corsicana in the fall of 1997, settling in with Toby, Cynthia and the girls. As often seemed to be the case with Cynthia, however, the relationship progressed past simple friendship. In later interviews with police, Boyd confessed that, unbeknownst to Toby, he'd begun having an affair with Cynthia.
In addition to the fact that, statistically, most murder victims know their killers, circumstantial evidence in Toby's death pointed directly to his live-in companions. Police at the crime scene had discovered seven nine-millimeter Winchester shell casings around Mathews's body. A subsequent search of the home he shared with Boyd and Cynthia found live rounds of the same size and make.
The evidence was compelling, and after a series of interviews, Boyd confessed to the crime. But, he added, he didn't do it alone.
In fact, Boyd informed police, it was Cynthia who had fired the first shots into Toby Mathews that spring night. Then, scared and hyped, he had pulled the gun from her hands and fired the remaining bullets into the body to make sure that Toby was dead. He and Cynthia then drove home.
But Phillips proved to be a tougher suspect than her lover. Despite Boyd's recollections, in several interviews with Corsicana police earlier this year, she adamantly denied having any part in the crime. She also denied it during a lie-detector test, although not very convincingly. "She didn't just flunk it; she bombed it," recalls Detective Bertha Zeidel, who is heading the investigation into Mathews's murder.
Additionally, the one piece of evidence that could definitively tie her to the crime--the handgun used in Toby's murder--has never been recovered. "We've looked high and low for it," says Zeidel. "We've had all kinds of people looking for it."
"She is our only other suspect," says exasperated Navarro County district attorney Patrick Bachelor. "If we could find the weapon, we'd have her." Until then, he says, his hands are tied: While Boyd's confession may be helpful, Bachelor explains that "to bring charges in the state of Texas, you must have more than an accomplice's testimony as evidence."
Thus, even though Texas law-enforcement officers have Boyd's confession, a solid motive (Cynthia's new lover and the six-figure life-insurance policy), the failed polygraph and the matching bullets, Phillips has eluded formal charges in the murder. "It's frustrating," says Zeidel. "It's real frustrating."
Yet the Texas murder investigation turned out to be just the beginning of the police's interest in Cynthia Phillips. As the Corsicana police department began piecing together the events leading up to Toby's murder, word of his death spread quickly back to Colorado.
And as the news scattered from friends to relatives and, eventually, to the police, it soon become apparent that Toby Mathews wasn't the only man Cynthia might have wanted dead. Her trail led backward, from Mathews to Ron Phillips--and perhaps even to Les Konrade. It appeared to have its beginnings in Colorado.
Summer 1995--Lamar, Colorado
Toby Mathews had begun working as a bouncer at Opal's Pub several months before he ever laid eyes on Cynthia Phillips at the family auto shop. Early on in his new job, he had met another bouncer, Michael Billy Slaughter. The two young men soon became good friends, eventually moving into a Lamar house together.
Big and bearded with long brown hair, Slaughter looked tough--"like a biker," according to one friend. His nickname was "Bear." Yet those who know him insist that that's just his exterior. "He wanted everybody to think he was rough, but he'd do just about anything for you," recalls Orie Mathews.
The combination of his thuggish appearance and good nature made Bear the best kind of bouncer. "He'd be able to recognize when two guys were about to be in a fight even before they did," recalls one Opal's regular. "So he'd go over and start laughing and joking with them. He sensed potential trouble and so was able to prevent it before it began."
As Cynthia started spending more time at Toby and Bear's house, she began confiding personal details of her life to Bear. She told him of her unhappiness at home and of Ron hitting her. Beginning in March 1996, according to Kiowa County court filings, she began floating an idea: She would pay Bear to kill Ron, after which she would collect the money from the insurance policies on his life.
As the weeks passed, Cynthia's vague but violent notion took shape, Bear later remembered. She instructed him to make the murder look like an accident. She informed Bear that Ron frequently worked late in the meatpacking shop, and she gave the bouncer detailed instructions on how to enter the building after hours.
She explained that after the deed was done, she wanted Ron's body placed at the bottom of a ladder so that it would appear as though he'd fallen to his death. She drew Bear a detailed map of the building. Then, after he'd looked at it, she burned it.
Cynthia promised to pay Bear cash for the favor: $10,000 in advance, and $10,000 more when Ron lay dead on the concrete floor of L&M Processing. The only thing missing was the money.
One of Sheriff Bryant Kurth's most useful attributes as the top law-enforcement officer in Edwards County, Kansas, is an excellent memory. Sitting in his office in Kinsley, for instance, he instantly remembers Cynthia Phillips. He recalls that her houses always seemed to catch on fire.
There were three in all, all within the space of ten years. The first, Kurth says, was many years ago, perhaps in 1989. The second Phillips house fire was in March 1995--actually in the town of Lewis, nine miles to the east of Kinsley. The third followed hard after that, in June 1995.
Naturally, by the time the third house burned down, the suspicions of local police were aroused, and so the June 1995 fire was investigated more thoroughly than the previous two. The inquiry paid off--partially.
"There was enough evidence to show it was arson," Kurth recalls, "but not enough evidence to show who did it." Still, the proof that did exist was enough for the insurance company, which refused to pay Phillips for the damage, Kurth remembers.
That hadn't been the case in the second house fire, however. After all, notes Kurth, "there was nothing suspicious at the time." The sheriff's department was never asked to look into the incident. "As far as we knew," he says, "it was just an accident."
So on June 12, 1995, Farmer's Insurance Group issued three checks totaling $13,383 to Cynthia Phillips to cover damage caused to her house by the blaze three months earlier. The checks were mailed to P.O. Box 8, Haswell, Colorado--the Phillipses' mailing address. They were cashed a week later.
That same month, Cynthia tracked down Bear at Opal's Pub. She needed to discuss important matters with him, he later recollected, and so the two agreed to meet at Bear and Toby's house. When Bear arrived, he discovered the purpose of the meeting. Cynthia counted out $10,000--eighty hundred-dollar bills and forty fifties--and handed the cash over to Bear.
Later, Bear would say that he had no intention of murdering Cynthia's husband. A friend insists that he actually took the money to protect Ron: If Cynthia didn't have the means to pay another assassin, Bear apparently reasoned, then Ron might live.
Whether Bear intended to slay Ron Phillips but then reconsidered, whether he genuinely wanted to protect him or whether he was intending to scam Cindy all along, he--and the $10,000--suddenly disappeared from Lamar. Before he left, however, Bear told some close friends about Cynthia's plan to assassinate Ron Phillips.
And that might have been the end of the odd story of the failed murder-for-hire plan out of Haswell. In fact, it's possible that police in Colorado, Kansas and Texas would never have taken an interest in Cynthia Phillips, had it not been for Les Konrade's death the following year and Toby Mathews's murder less than two years after that.
According to court documents, one of the people to whom Bear confided details of the scheme was the owner of Opal's, a grandmother named Bonnie Kemp. (Kemp declined to be interviewed for this story.) As owner of the bar, Kemp had become close friends with Toby Mathews, so when she learned of Toby's death this past spring, she felt compelled to pass along her condolences to Cynthia and seek whatever information on the killing she could find. She dialed Ron Phillips's phone number in Haswell. But it wasn't Phillips who answered the phone.
After Cynthia moved to Texas with Toby, Ron had had little reason to stick around, and he, too, had fled Haswell not long after his wife left him. So instead of hearing Phillips's voice that April day, Kemp reached Leonard Price, who had come out of retirement to retain control of L&M Processing and his old home.
The two got to talking--about Ron Phillips and Toby's murder, and about Cynthia Phillips's attempt to have Ron killed. Alarmed, Price contacted the Kiowa County sheriff, who immediately called Kemp. By coincidence, the following day Bear happened to phone up his old friends from Opal's Pub. When he learned about Toby's murder, he, too, called the police.
Bear told investigators about Cynthia's efforts to hire him to kill her husband--the details of the map of L&M Processing, the money she gave him. He added one more thing he thought the police ought to know: At about the same time that Cynthia was trying to convince him to murder Ron Phillips, she had also asked him to kill a man in Kansas she used to be married to named Les Konrade.
Summer 1998--Kinsley, Kansas, and Eads, Colorado
The case of Leslie Konrade's death remains open; in fact, it has never officially been designated a homicide. But to many of the 1,900 or so residents of Kinsley, the cause of Konrade's death is hardly mysterious. "We got plenty of guys here who, if they didn't show up for work one day, you wouldn't be surprised," recalls Micki Avery, a lifelong Kinsley resident who knew Konrade. "But Les was not that type of person. If he was gone, it was for a reason.
"Even before his body was found, people were saying, 'I bet she did it,'" adds Avery, who works at one of the two papers in town, the Graphic. "And then, when we heard about this deal down in Texas, they said, 'You ought to write a great big headline: I Told You So!'"
Hungry for answers, Konrade's sister has gathered every detail she could about her brother's death and gone over them again and again. Many of them, in retrospect, seem sinister. To Beverly Jensen and the rest of the Konrades, Les's death was no accident.
Who, for example, was the woman who had called Les at the bar just before he disappeared from the VFW? Hadn't Cynthia been seen in town a day or so before Les's disappearance? Why was he seen leaving the hall in someone else's car?
The place where Les's body was eventually discovered troubles Jensen, too. "He was scared to death of water," she recalls. "And it was flooding out there. He'd never have gone out there. He couldn't swim."
Some clues have begun to take on a familiar cast. One source close to the investigation says that in the winter of 1995, between Phillips's fizzled attempt to have her husband murdered and the time of Konrade's disappearance, Konrade apparently took out a second life-insurance policy, listing Cynthia and their daughters as beneficiaries. (Jensen says Konrade already had a $40,000 life-insurance policy that was to go to his children in the case of his death.) The source adds that there is a good chance the policy may have been forged--a possible explanation as well for the large policies Ron Phillips supposedly bought just before Cynthia left him.
Cynthia Phillips has cropped up in the investigation into Konrade's death in more direct ways as well. Bruce Mellor was one of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to look for Les Konrade. On the morning of September 13, 1996, he recalls, he and a handful of sheriff's deputies "just started walking up Coon Creek. We didn't know exactly where to look. But we'd received some information that he might be found in some water."
Later that day, after Konrade's body had been recovered, Mellor returned to his Great Bend office. There was a letter waiting for him. The letter, which was unsigned, provided precise--and extraordinarily accurate--details of where Konrade's body could be found. When Mellor had the paper dusted for fingerprints, the crime lab got a hit: The fingerprints on the letter belonged to Cynthia Phillips.
"Apparently she realized that she couldn't collect a life-insurance policy if there was no body," hypothesizes Jensen.
As new evidence continues to emerge, Jensen has been making the long drive to Eads, Colorado, looking for answers. That is where, in three months, Cynthia Phillips is scheduled to go on trial in Kiowa County District Court for planning to murder Ron Phillips.
On May 25, not long after Bear Slaughter's call to the Kiowa County sheriff's department, Cynthia was arrested in Corsicana, Texas, and brought to Eads. A month later she was charged with conspiracy and criminal solicitation to commit first-degree murder. Bear was promised immunity in exchange for his testimony.
At around the same time, in Corsicana, Richard Boyd was charged with capital murder in the April shooting death of Toby Mathews. Navarro County DA Bachelor says that if the case goes to trial, it will probably be sometime early next year. Meanwhile, law-enforcement officers there say they hope that Cynthia Phillips will make the one misstep that will give them enough reason to charge her with murdering Toby Mathews for his life-insurance policy.
"We're waiting for the Colorado trial to see what happens," says Detective Zeidel. "I hope we get lucky and she breaks down and confesses. But realistically, I don't think that will happen. She's very bullheaded."
(Ronald Foster, Kiowa County district attorney, refused to discuss the Colorado case or to release photos of Phillips, even though making mug shots available to the media is standard practice in most counties in the state.)
Following Toby's death last spring, some of Cynthia's relatives traveled from Kansas to Texas to support her. While they were there, Mathews's grandmother, Billie Walthrop, tried to meet with them--despite her own suspicions.
"I was trying to do what Toby wanted," she says. "He loved her, he said. So I wanted to make sure and see if I could forgive her. That's what the Lord would want. But I sure would like to know what kind of hold she had over Toby."
Chris Reiling, one of Cynthia's sisters, still lives in Kinsley. She says that while she's heard all the bloody stories coming out of Texas, Colorado and Kansas about her sister, they do not pertain to Cynthia. "It's not my sister," she says. "She's never wanted to hurt anybody. I know her."
Instead, Reiling adds, with all the death that has followed her, it is Cynthia who deserves some compassion. "My sister has had an unfortunate life," she says.
October 1998--Greensburg, Kansas
The town lies 25 miles south of Kinsley, along State Route 183, in the bull's-eye center of Kansas's Kiowa County. It is where Harold and Karen Schinstock have resided nearly all their lives. Their tragic personal history, like that of Cynthia Phillips, shatters the myth of a peaceful, idyllic existence protected from big-city violence by endless fields and wide-open spaces.
Several years ago, one of the Schinstocks' sons was discovered trying to have his wife killed. Although the woman was beaten severely, she survived.
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That was the second of the family's misfortunes. In January 1982, another of the Schinstock boys, Anthony, took his own life, drifting into death as his car idled in the family's garage. He was sixteen years old.
The suicide seemed as uncharacteristic as it was tragic. The only reason the family could think of that Anthony would kill himself was that he and his girlfriend had recently split up.
Today Harold says he would prefer not to discuss such ancient and painful history. But even seventeen years later, he suspects there is more to the story, details that will never be told about his son's death. There were tantalizing clues that seemed to promise answers but then always dissolved. Clues like the letter from Anthony's ex-girlfriend, Cynthia Nau, that the Schinstocks had found in their son's room after his death.
"Cynthia had wrote him a letter," Harold recalls. "In the letter, she wanted my son to kill her stepdad. She laid it all out in that letter. We gave it to the sheriff. But nothing ever come of it.